One of the people that Kailey and I have gotten a chance to learn from is a man by the name of John Perkins. Dr. Perkins is a civil rights leader who grew up in Mississippi during one of our country’s darkest, most violently racist times. His older brother, Clyde, fought in World War II, came back home to the United States and was shot to death by a white police officer. Soon after his brother’s murder, Dr. Perkins fled Mississippi and moved to California where he lived for over ten years. California is where Dr. Perkins met Jesus and dedicated his life to serving Him. Dr. Perkins eventually moved back to Mississippi where he began fervently fighting for the civil rights of African Americans. He was arrested several times and even tortured by police officers while in jail.
Dr. Perkins has every reason in the world to hate white people. But he doesn’t.
Now in his late 80s, Dr. Perkins is still a leader, traveling the country and speaking to different groups about the importance of racial reconciliation and seeking justice in our communities. He has also been extremely outspoken about calling out the church for not doing more to push back against racism and segregation. After all, Sunday’s are still one of the most segregated days of the week.
Kailey and I have heard Dr. Perkins speak at churches, conferences and read books he has authored. I won’t try to sum up all of his teachings in one journal entry, because that would not do justice to the incredible wisdom that Dr. Perkins regularly imparts. However, I do want to mention one phrase that he frequently uses in his book called Dream With Me:
“Love is the final fight.”
I’m going to be really honest. When I first heard the phrase “love is the final fight,” I was in total agreement and loved the phrase, but when I sat back and tried to contemplate what it really means, I had no idea. Love is the final fight? What does that even mean?
It wasn’t until I was doing some reading for a men’s group that a light bulb went on. In the men’s group, we were studying the Sermon on the Mount. If you’ve never read the Sermon on the Mount or never heard of it, it is a portion of the Bible that is the longest continuous section of Jesus speaking with no interruptions in the book of Matthew. It occurs early on in Jesus’ ministry. During his message, Jesus covers all kinds of topics. In Matthew chapter five, verse 43 through 48, Jesus teaches about loving your enemies.
Here is what Jesus says:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” – Matthew 5:43-48
This is such a powerful passage from Jesus’ teaching. In lots of ways, the heart behind this passage is a major motivation for us starting this website, so we can learn to love people who we perceive as tough to love. But the part that I want to discuss is that last sentence, verse 48, where Jesus says, “Be perfect.”
Now, I realize that everyone who is reading this may not be a Christian. If you’re not a Christian and you’re from a different religion or no religion, I’m really honored you’re taking the time to read this and hear my thoughts. But let me just say, as a Christian who believes that when Jesus gives a command I should probably follow, hearing Jesus say “be perfect” is fairly terrifying. I’m pretty confident that I have no shot at being perfect.
As I contemplated the verse, I had a great idea… I’ll just read a different translation! So I started looking up the same verse (Matthew 5:48) in any other translation of the Bible I could find online. Much to my chagrin, every translation uses the word “perfect.” From “be ye therefore perfect” in the King James to “But you are to be perfect” in the New Living Translation, every version says “perfect.”
Before throwing in the towel on my research, I decided to go to BibleHub.com and do some digging about the origins of the original Greek used in this verse. Don’t worry, I’m not going to bore you by nerding-out over Greek origins and defining transliteration, but I’ll simply say this – the Bible was originally translated into Greek. There are tons of examples in the Bible of a word being used in the original Greek that we just don’t have an equivalent to in English that can cover the fullness of the original language. The actual word used in Matthew 5:48 was not “perfect” but the word “teleios.”
According to BibleHub.com, the world teleios means “mature from going through the necessary stages to reach the end-goal, i.e. developed into a consummating completion by fulfilling the necessary process.” After reading the definition of the word teleios, I immediately thought about Dr. Perkins and his book Dream With Me.
Love is the final fight.
What is one of the most essential building blocks in nearing our completion in Christ? Or maybe as Dr. Perkins might put it, what is the last hurdle we need to get over to bring our selves as close to the true heart of Jesus as we can get in this world?
Loving our enemies.
Now let me pause for a moment. If you grew up in the Church or are familiar with Christianity in any way, you have probably heard the phrase “love your enemies” before. We have to be very careful to not water this down. As an American Christian who is living a privileged life, I don’t have any enemies that want to do me physical harm. Many of you may feel the same way. Some of you may not. But for the most part, when reading through these verses, when I see the word “enemy,” I think more of the people who are hard to like – the people who really annoy me or frustrate me or make me angry. But whoever your “enemy” may be, I think lots of us read Matthew 5:48 and in our heads we hear the phrase “tolerate your enemies.” Honestly, this verse is often taught in a way that suggests living out Jesus’ proclamation to love our enemies is simply being nice to Joe Schmo at work who is really annoying. But that’s not what Jesus said. He said to LOVE our enemies.
And what is the measure of love? I man much wiser than me once said that the truest form of love is being willing to lay down your life for another. Or as the Bible puts it:
“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:8
In the six verses in Matthew, Jesus is not suggesting that we simply tolerate the people who annoy us, but he is proclaiming that in order to reach the end goal of our Christian walk and to consummate completion in our faith, we must be willing to lay down our lives for our enemies.
Let me be really open and honest with you all… I don’t love my enemies. I can tolerate my enemies, I can be cordial with my enemies, but I don’t love them. The connection between Dr. Perkins’ phrase and Matthew 5:43-48 has been yet another self-learning point that reminds me how badly I need a savior. It has also opened my eyes to a blind spot I had, but it has also motivated me to seek the path that will lead me in this direction.
If you’re a Christian and find yourself in a similar situation to me – not loving your enemies – I leave you with two thoughts. 1) This is a change that will not happen over night, and you shouldn’t expect it to. 2) There is no condemnation in sin (Romans 8:1-2). The purpose of Jesus telling us to love our enemies is not to make us feel terrible for how far we have to go. The point is to help us become aware of the direction we need to be moving. Even if we may not be in a place where we can honestly say we love our enemies, an essential question is – are we moving towards our enemies in love?
If you’re not a Christian but loving your enemies is something that you feel you want to implement in your life, then great! Please, join us in this path. That’s why we started this website – to talk with real people who have real stories and can help us all learn how to move towards people who are different from us.
We are so excited to continue on this journey with you guys. Let us know how you’re doing. Let us know your thoughts. We’re in this together. And remember, like Dr. Perkins says:
Love is the final fight.